Tel. +44 (0)20 7287 4414
Tel. +44 (0)20 7287 4414
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

Bruges Group Blog

Spearheading the intellectual battle against the EU. And for new thinking in international affairs.

Boris and the divided house


Boris Johnson's letter of resignation wonders how Harriet Harman's panel could have come to its conclusion:

I have received a letter from the Privileges Committee making it clear - much to my amazement - that they are determined to use the proceedings against me to drive me out of Parliament.

That sense of injustice is reminiscent of Sir Thomas More's angry outburst at Henry's VIII's packed jury:

Well, seeing I am condemned, God knows how justly, I will freely speak for the disburdening my Conscience…

In both cases, if Johnson alleges correctly, the verdict was guided by wider political considerations; but flowing in opposite directions. While Henry wanted a breach with Rome and to assert supremacy over the Church in England, today it seems that much of the Establishment wishes to re-succumb to the Treaty of Rome (etc.) and surrender our secular sovereignty.

Is Boris justified in his suspicions that he is the victim of a Remainer 'hanging committee'? Let's see who's on it. Parliament's website lists the following as members:

  1. Rt Hon Harriet Harman KC MP (Lab) (CHAIR) - backed a Referendum but also campaigned for Remain and was 'deeply disappointed' at the result.
  2. Yvonne Fovargue MP (Lab) - voted Remain (but did vote for Article 50);
  3. Andy Carter MP (Con) - voted Remain in the Brexit Referendum (though he said later that he respected the outcome);
  4. Alberto Costa MP (Con) - prior to the Referendum he 'put on the record [his] intention to campaign to remain in the EU' according to the BBC, and said he intended to vote Remain;
  5. Sir Bernard Jenkin MP (Con) - pro Brexit and a vocal supporter of Leave Means Leave;
  6. Allan Dorans (SNP) - has 'generally voted for more EU integration' according to TheyWorkForYou, and recently (8 Feb) said 'Brexit has been a total disaster' for his constituency.
  7. Sir Charles Walker MP (Con) - urged a referendum on Brexit, stated his intention to campaign for Leave, but in 2019, seeing the Parliamentary chaos as a result, said 'To the day I die I will curse myself for ever thinking that a referendum was a good idea'; opposed the notion of a second referendum.

So, of seven members we have five pro-EU, one firm Leaver and one Leaver who had urged a referendum but has since expressed regret (though from what he said that may have been more to do with how the plebiscite undermined the status of Parliament.)

I say 'plebiscite' because that is what the Referendum became when the major political parties committed themselves to implementing the people's decision. Sir Charles' difficulties could have been obviated if our representatives had honoured their solemn - and written - undertaking.

It may be that some Committee members were prejudiced against Johnson and allowed their animus to decide their conclusion; but suspicion is not proof.

That cuts both ways. In finding - without conclusive evidence, and without the opportunity for the accused to challenge their assertions - that Boris deliberately misled Parliament, the Committee was no more entitled to read his mind than he, theirs.

Surely Johnson is right to say 'a dangerous and unsettling precedent is being set' in using 'powers – which have only been very recently designed – to mount what is plainly a political hitjob on someone they oppose.'

In effect, Johnson has been quasi-impeached, but without the rigorously fair proceedings involved in the real thing. It has been more than two hundred years since Parliament attempted impeachment, and both the last two cases ended in acquittal. If MPs really wish to put one of their members on trial, they might consider calling in ex-PM Tony Blair on the matter of what he told Parliament about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Even if he sincerely believed in their existence he must have known that he did not certainly know, and the consequence was a great tragedy.

Still, on the whole, it's better that Blair not be brought to the bar; we need to preserve social cohesion: 'Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.' We have an example of that peril in the US, where the public's trust in their institutions has been weakening for years.

For how long will our own Houses of Parliament stand if partisan politics continue to divide and intensify?

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Director : Robert Oulds
Tel: 020 7287 4414
Chairman: Barry Legg
The Bruges Group
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Founder President :
The Rt Hon. the Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven LG, OM, FRS 
Vice-President : The Rt Hon. the Lord Lamont of Lerwick,
Chairman: Barry Legg
Director : Robert Oulds MA, FRSA
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